COASTGUARD campaigners fighting to keep lifesaving services on the Fylde coast have slammed an agency which suggesting local knowledge is not needed.
The claims were made by Sir Alan Massey, chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), in response to a report released by the transport committee which found staff are leaving the coastguard as they become disillusioned with the Government’s plans to close them.
Liverpool Coastguard, which runs sea rescues on the Fylde coast, is set to close in 2014 and move to Holyhead in Belfast, hundreds of miles away from the operations they will handle.
The report says there are too many mixed messages about the importance of local knowledge, while pressure group Coastguard SOS claim it is vital.
Chris Jameson, a spokesman for the Fylde coast Coastguard SOS branch, said: “Our campaign has always been about the need for local knowledge and it’s important in any emergency.
“When anyone falls overboard and goes in the sea around our coast, they are given minutes to live because of the temperatures, even when they are in an immersion suit.
“One thing which will ensure resources get to a casualty in the shortest space of time is knowledge of the area because the coastguard knows what they can call on.”
The report found there is a lot of confusion surrounding the roles of coastguard staff when they move to the new Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) in Hampshire, and how they will fit in with regional centres.
Mr Jameson added: “They are going to have a more isolated system where they rely on knowledge being captured and put into a database.
“The coastguards left to pick up the pieces haven’t got a clue what the database will contain or the information it will capture.”
Su Daintith, a spokeswoman for the Public and Commercial Services Union, says knowing the area coastguard staff work in is essential.
She added: “Anyone starting at Liverpool gets a year to learn the area they are working within and are tested.
“If they don’t pass it they can’t continue with their job. Local knowledge is a big part of our competencies.”
Louise Ellman MP, chairman of the transport committee, said: “The manner in which changes are being imposed has already damaged the service and it is a great concern that the vacancy rate for skilled staff has doubled since 2010.
“The MCA’s stance in respect of the local knowledge which coastguards in co-ordination centres must have is also confusing and contradictory.
“In a response the committee described as ‘complacent and lacking in detail’, Sir Alan Massey suggested local knowledge is not a requirement.”
MPs sitting on the transport committee, included Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, who said: “I hope the Government will pay close attention to the committee’s views on this vital matter.”